Political Promise

The Cult of Che

In Jamie Walden on May 29, 2011 at 4:54 pm


Jamie Walden explores the demagogue status of Che Guevara, and argues whether “those sporting fashionable Guevara idol-worshipping attire acknowledge the reasons that he spent his life campaigning and killing.”

There is a wonderful irony in the abundance of Che Guevara merchandise.  Alberta Korda’s photograph of the despotic missing-link staring pseudo-heroically into the distance is now plastered on a variety of paraphernalia by capitalists to be sold to vicariously rebellious dupes whose knowledge of the chief executioner of Castro’s gulag must be at best ahistorical.

The cult of Che began early.  In August 1960 Time magazine deferentially put the ‘brains of the Cuban revolution’ on its cover.  The gushing accompanying article was not only impressed by his political competence and fierce intelligence but also by how women were helplessly compelled by his charisma.  Perhaps not the most challenging piece of press a politician has had to take on the chin.

The iconography of Guevara has grown throughout the subsequent five decades which have elevated him to become a symbol of freedom, revolution and justice.  In 2008 Hollywood’s favourite Caligula was even the title character in his own two-part major motion picture, named simply, Che, which stretches on for a laborious four and a half hours.  Benicio Del Toro, a willing victim of the Che delusion, plays the lead character in an extensive piece of what is in effect Communist propaganda which featured no content detailing the crimes of Cuban communism or Guevara’s extensive personal list of misdemeanours or his destruction of the Cuban economy.  On the one occasion Guevara is depicted engaging in his favourite hobby of execution it is an execution of a man guilty of raping a child, as opposed to what was often the case- execution of a man guilty of disloyalty to the revolution.

In 1960, the very same year Time magazine reverently spoke of Guevara’s ‘perceptive sense of humour’ and all the rest of it, he was appointed Castro’s Minister of Economics.  During that first year the Cuban peso declined into worthlessness and the following year when the glutton for punishment Castro made Guevara his Minister of Industries, rationing, factory closures and the voluntary diaspora of fleeing citizens soon followed.  The reality of the governor of La Cabana Fortress Prison as it turns out is very different to the hyperreality of Che the icon.

Humberto Fontova’s 2007 written polemic humorously entitled Exposing the Real Che Guevara: And the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him details the unelected barbarian’s penchant for extra-judicial killings and his mass implementation of capital punishment for dissenters (various sources say from a few hundred to a few thousand, Che himself would boast of ‘a couple thousand’).  Not only that, but “Stalin II” as he used to sign his name, persecuted homosexuals, burned books, banned rock and roll and enormously exacerbated poverty in Latin America, the very poverty he is worshipped for allegedly seeking to alleviate.

One would like to know if those sporting fashionable Guevara idol-worshipping attire acknowledge the reasons that he spent his life campaigning and killing.  It was all for the purpose of imposing an authoritarian one-party state with permanent and absolute control over the citizen, circumcised of their individually so that the latest in a long line of Marxist experiments could traumatise more generations of victims.  Those propping up berets and Guevara T-shirts on their empty heads and risk-avoiding torsos are either masochists who do not mind that their champion would have required them to unquestioningly obey the state (hardly a radical or rebellious requirement) or they have been fantastically mislead by a constant stream of cultural nonsense ranging from the film studios of Hollywood through to the gooey-eyed print media.  So if you are ever tempted to pay money for tat with Guevara’s face pasted onto it, I beg of you to do so ironically by design and not by ignorance.

How did a mentally deranged travelling homeless Argentinian, without any discernible talent or competency, who offered nothing whatsoever to Marxist theory, achieve such a level of stardom?

  1. I have read a fair amount on Che. A massive biography was written about him fairly recently by Jon Lee Anderson. A pretty good myth-buster if ever one was needed. I wouldn’t go as far as saying he is a Caligula-like figure. Certainly flawed. I think one of the main problems of findng truth in his life story stems from the fact that it stems from a time of political extremes (even by Latin America’s usually extreme standards). This particular one being the Cold War. The socialist left stereotypically hold him up to be some sort of demi-god. And the right nail him to the Commie-basing-cross. Both perspectives ignore important facts in their tunnel vision. Such as for instance the fact that non-Communist Jamaica and indeed much of the Caribbean in general have appaling levels of violence towards homosexuals (on a side note this is one of the few things that Fidel has apologised for). At the same time I have been to the La Cabana fortress,and new the stories about it before I got there. The revolutionary executions were unsurprisingly ommitted from the guided tour. As was the guided tour I had of a museum about the counter-revolutionary insurgents (ALL allegedly CIA operatives, news to me). I always come to the conclusion that the Cuban Revolution is much like any revolution in history: it solves many problems in it’s stride, and creates new ones in it’s place.

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